International soccer coming to Comerica Park

Al Willman
The Detroit News

Detroit — Professional soccer is coming to the Motor City, but it’s not the MLS — at least not yet.

Paris Saint-Germain and AS Roma will kick off the International Champions Cup at 8:30 p.m. on July 19, the Tigers and District Detroit announced in a news conference Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.

The International Champions Cup will be at Comerica Park on July 19. The matchup will feature AS Roma and Paris Saint-Germain.

It will be the fourth international soccer match in the area in three years and the first match between both teams.

Real Madrid played twice at Michigan Stadium. It took on Manchester United in 2014 and Chelsea last year for the ICC, while Detroit City FC hosted FC United of Manchester at Keyworth Stadium last spring.

Juan Pablo Sorin, who played in 21 matches for PSG in 2003-04, said he’s looking forward to July’s contest.

“Having two great teams with a lot of history, obviously PSG is a lot younger of a team and Roma that has an impressive history, it’ll be a very exciting match,” Sorin said through an interpreter.

He said he’s curious to see how the match plays out in a venue not originally designed for soccer. While Comerica Park holds 41,297 for a baseball game, it fluctuates depending on the event.

“It’s really interesting, the idea of a football match here (at a baseball stadium),” Sorin said. “I’m a fan of baseball and I always find it interesting how big the stadiums are.”

The layout is not yet finalized, but the seating capacity is expected to be around 40,000-42,000.

However, 33,025 came for the Winter Festival — including the alumni game between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs during the 2013 Winter Classic.

“We expect to sell out,” said Charlie Stillitano, chairman of Relevent Sports, which is owned by Michigan alum and business magnate Stephen A. Ross, and is the primary organizer of the ICC. “With baseball, we do different configurations. It depends if we’re taking down the mound or not. I have to go look at it today.”

Part of the preparation includes the installation of grass on the infield, where there would normally be dirt for a game.

“We are committed to putting in grass for all the teams,” Stillitano said. “The reason is really a simple one. This is their preseason preparation. Teams come here and they take it very, very seriously.”

What does this mean for MLS?

Alex Zecca, who runs the youth development for AS Roma — and was its representative Wednesday in Detroit — said he expects the international match to help Detroit get one step further in its bid to earn an MLS franchise.

“I absolutely think so,” Zecca said. “What you demonstrate here is that (Detroit) is a soccer town. People will come out to see the game and it shows a certain love for the sport. It’s the enthusiasm that the league is looking at. This is part of what they’re looking for. When they see cities like Detroit that really want to do it, and are going after it, I think it bodes well for them.”

Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc., said he’s supportive of MLS coming to Detroit.

“I think Detroit is known as one of, if not the best sports town in America,” Ilitch said. “I think the growth in the sport of soccer is undeniable world wide and in the United States. The younger generation loves this sport. I see it with my own three children. They all play soccer. My passion for the sport has grown as I see it through their eyes. I think it’d be great for the community and for Detroit as a sports city. So I’m supportive of that.”

Stillitano is also a proponent of Detroit’s bid.

“The fact that Chris mentioned is so remarkable that the four professional teams are here within a few blocks of each other,” Stillatano said. “It would be great to have a soccer team because, let’s face it, soccer is the fifth sport. I think they’ve (MLS) established themselves as a real sport.”

As far as the future of the ICC in Detroit, Stillitano said Juventus, which is playing Wednesday evening in a Champions League semifinal match, wants to play here.

Juventus Chairman Andrea Agnelli and his family, which founded Fiat — and owns a stake of Chrysler — has strong ties to Detroit.

“So he (Agnelli) said, ‘You’re going to Detroit? I want to be in Detroit,’” Stillitano said. “I said, ‘Well, we’ve only got one game left.’ So there’s not a formal agreement to continue, but we’ve talked about it. We would like to make this a regular stop.”

Tickets go on sale May 16. More information can be found here.

2017 International Champions Cup

Who: AS Roma vs. Paris Saint-Germain

When: 8 p.m. July 19

Where: Comerica Park, Detroit

Cost: Tickets will start at $25 and go on sale May 16

Al Willman is a freelance writer